CUMMING — In his three years as a youth minister at a small Gainesville church, Phillip Glenn Terrell won over the trust of the tight-knit congregation that treated him like family.
But by repeatedly molesting the teenage son of one of the church members, Terrell not only left the boy emotionally scarred, but hastened the demise of Emmanuel Baptist Church.
On Friday, Terrell, 38, pleaded guilty to molesting the boy, then 14, at two Forsyth County locations in 2006. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The red brick church on Atlanta Highway, where 50 or 60 parishioners gathered each Sunday at the time of Terrell’s April 2007 arrest, now sits empty.
“This whole thing was the death knell for that church,” the victim’s mother said during Friday’s plea hearing in Forsyth County Superior Court.
Terrell, wearing handcuffs and dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, told Judge David Dickinson he lives with regret.
“I look back on that and realize how wrong it was,” Terrell said. “If I could do anything to take it back, I would. I took advantage of (the victim’s) trust and his parents’ trust. I was just being real selfish.”
Terrell still faces charges in Hall County of molesting the victim and another boy at the Gainesville church. He is expected to plead guilty to the charges next month, his attorney told the judge.
Forsyth County Assistant District Attorney Sandra Partridge told Dickinson that prosecutors agreed to a negotiated plea agreement in order to spare the victim from testifying at a trial. The family approved of the plea deal, Partridge said.
Terrell faced up to 90 years in prison after pleading guilty to three counts of aggravated child molestation. Partridge said she could not prove that the acts were committed on or after July 1, 2006, when a state law took effect that requires a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison. The mandatory sentence in Terrell’s case was 10 years.
Dickinson sentenced Terrell to 30 years, with 15 to serve in prison and the remainder on probation. He must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life and is barred from working with children.
Terrell received credit for the nearly three years he has spent in jail since his arrest. The full 15 years must be served without parole.
“You destroyed numerous lives, destroyed a church, destroyed a family,” the judge told Terrell. “You were in the setting of being a youth minister, which takes it to another level. You’ll have to answer to God, of course, but this court will do what it needs to do to protect this community.”
Terrell was previously charged with child molestation in 2001, when he was a guard at a juvenile detention center in Paulding County. He was acquitted of the charge in a bench trial when the alleged victim was unable to identify him in court.
Church officials were unaware of the prior molestation charge when they hired him to handle youth programs in 2003. He was dismissed from the post in November 2006 after the criminal investigation began.
Emmanuel Baptist Church was formed in 1938 and at its peak had 400 members, according to the Southern Baptist Convention.
Since Terrell’s arrest, the church has been renamed Heritage Fellowship and holds services at an Atlanta Highway storefront, according to the church’s Web site (emmanuel-baptistchurch.net). Senior Pastor Ken Martin was unavailable for comment Friday.
Three people, including Terrell’s mother, spoke on his behalf Friday.
The victim, now a young man, told Terrell he forgave him “even though it has been difficult.
“You took my church from me and my family and you hurt my family, but now we are closer than ever,” he said.